Indian Grey Hornbill—the seed dispersers

Posted by on 07 Aug 2016

There are about 54 species of hornbills in the world, out of which 9 occur in India. The hornbill pictured here is the Indian Grey Hornbill, which is common across the Indian subcontinent, except the wettest (Western Ghats and northeast) and the driest (northwest) parts of the country.

Indian Grey Hornbill, Ocyceros birostris at Pune, Maharashtra

Breeding/Nesting
Hornbills have unique breeding habits, where the female confines herself into a nest cavity in a tree, with only a narrow opening through which the male shares the food throughout the nesting period. For the Indian grey hornbills, the total nesting period is about 87 days, where the female is confined to the nest cavity for an average of 76 days. Most of the grey hornbill nests are in hollows of the Mahagony tree family, located nearby riverine habitats. Deforestation, agriculture and other developmental activities have restricted the range of many species like these hornbills.

Grey hornbills as seed dispersers
Hornbills play a key role in seed dissemination, germination and regeneration of trees. This is because they are mainly frugivores (fruit consuming) and can break up/swallow large fruits, and regurgitate the seeds without damaging, making them the perfect dispersers. Since they travel long distances in search of fruits, they are capable of moving these seeds to distant locations.

Grey hornbills are effective seed dispersers for trees such as Premna tomentosa (a teak like tree), Putranjiva, Fern trees and even Sandalwood trees! Many of these are medicinally and commercially valuable trees but they generate very few seeds and propagation depends on birds like these hornbills.

Mid-air play and fight
Like many other hornbills, the grey hornbill has a long curved bill, which has a casque (helmet) on the top. The male hornbills engage in midair clashes where they jar against each other’s casques to establish their dominance and as part of their social play. This behaviour is known as aerial jousting.

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olive ridley turtles—and dinosaurs

Posted by on 27 Mar 2016

Watching these Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings making their first steps to the sea is an emotional experience!

Olive Ridley Turtle hatchling, Velas, Maharashtra

Olive Ridley turtles are among the five species of marine turtles which are known to inhabit Indian coastal waters and islands. Odisha on the eastern coast of India hosts one of the largest mass nestings (known as arribadas) of these turtles, supporting a nesting population of probably more than half a million.

There are Olive Ridley turtle populations elsewhere in the Indian Ocean too, scattered around from Sri Lanka to Kerala to Pakistan on the west coast. We went to one of these nesting sites or “rookeries”, snuggled amid a laid-back village called Velas, on the coast of Maharashtra. While half a million turtles nest on the Odisha coast, only a few hundreds visit the Maharashtra coast. Conserving these few turtles are important as they are critically endangered species.

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blue marsh hawk and the skimmers

Posted by on 12 Jun 2014

The blue marsh hawk belong to the dragonfly family of skimmers, and are conspicuous with their blue thorax and tail.

blue marsh hawk,  orthetrum glaucaum

Dragonflies, especially the males of some species, are also territorial in nature. Research shows that among some marsh skimmers, the males with longer hind wings have an upper hand in winning territorial conflicts.

Species: orthetrum glaucaumFamily: libellulidae

Here are a few other skimmers from our earlier articles:

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the veiled lady

Posted by on 29 May 2014

A pretty damsel adorning a bridal veil.

the veiled lady fungi

The veiled lady, or the bridal veil stinkhorn as it is popularly known, belongs to the fungi family of stinkhorns. A mature stinkhorn has a phallic structure which is about 10-15cm high and with a cap on top, skirted with a net/membrane (indusium), and hence its scientific name, phallus indusiatus. The veiled lady mushroom is edible, and enjoys an elite status for its medicinal and aphrodisiac properties. Indeed, an obscure study states that the smell emanating from these mushrooms can trigger spontaneous orgasms in human females!

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oriental plain tiger

Posted by on 11 Apr 2014

The plain tiger enjoys a celebrity status of being the first butterfly in the recorded history. It was depicted in a painting, with its distinct colors and patterns, in the tomb of Nebamun in Egypt, circa 1350 BCE – that’s more than 3300 years before!

oriental plain tiger, male at korlai, maharashtra

It’s a tiger not merely in its stripes and colors. It is a terror to potential predators too! Their bodies contain toxic alkaloids from plants, which they have devoured as a larvae. Birds and predators memorize and associate the unsavoriness of these butterfly species with their patterns and habits, and try to avoid them. This, in turn, is found to have evolutionary consequences in other “edible” butterflies, which ended up mimicing similar colors and patterns in order to escape from the predators.

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